A fowl business
A Sacramento man finds it is not easy to work honestly for bond companies, so he’s bailing
One can just imagine what the chicken carcass must have looked like when ex-bail bondsman Tedd Malter came home to his Sacramento apartment in the middle of the night on December 28. He found it placed carefully in the middle of the welcome mat, facing his front door. At that time, under the streetlights, it looked freshly carved. The fleshy, pink color of the bones was easily visible among the slivers of remaining meat.
A week later, the chicken had collected a layer of frost from Malter’s freezer and looked like the beginnings for a pot of chicken soup. But paired with a Halloween-day burglary of Malter’s personal files and documents, the stripped chicken seemed to come with its own sinister message: You squawk, and you’re dead meat.
More than a few people might have wanted to send that message, especially because Malter already had squawked. He’d made a couple of sworn statements to the Department of Insurance, which regulates the bail industry, about illegal activities he’d seen in a number of Sacramento bail-bond agencies. An investigator warned him that he should expect retaliation.
Then, the chicken showed up.
Unusually tall and with thick, black hair and shiny, black alligator boots, Malter resembles a streetwise urban cowboy with plenty of tattoos and a criminal past. But he speaks like a by-the-book paralegal and lives with a complex ethical code that protects him in his communications with both white-collar professionals and underworld motorcycle gangs.
In talking about the arrival of the chicken, it became obvious that Malter had pissed off people in and out of the bail industry with the parts of his code pertaining to professional conduct. As a licensed bail agent (his license has since lapsed) and a notary public, Malter took his authority very seriously and resented what he called being asked to break the law.
For instance, Malter is taking Alex Padilla Bail Bonds to court on a wrongful-termination suit. He claims that he was fired after refusing to notarize a copy of a deed to a man’s home that was to be signed over to the agency as collateral on a bond. Legally, notaries can notarize only original copies of deeds. In a letter to his supervisor, Malter explained that he expected his knowledge of the law and his ethical behavior to be rewarded. Instead, Malter claimed, he was fired.
His former supervisor, John Morgan, denied that he fired Malter because the agent wouldn’t commit a felony. He said that Malter was confused about what he’d been asked to do and that Malter quit to go work for a different bail agency.
Someone related with the case might have left Malter the chicken, or it could have been someone outside the industry, perhaps one of the tenants he evicted when he was manager of his apartment complex. There’s no proof that anyone from the bail industry was responsible, and none of the professionals interviewed for this story was aware of threats against Malter.
But, if anyone owed Malter some dead fowl, it would probably have been one of his previous bosses.
Malter has worked for four of Sacramento’s bail agencies and had gotten to know the owners and agents who regularly carried pockets full of cash. They also drove expensive cars that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The bond-company owners dealt daily with criminals and suspected criminals and competed with one another for business in creative and, at times, cutthroat ways. According to Michael McCallister, an investigator for the California Department of Insurance (who could not comment on specific investigations), bail bondsmen are notorious for going to any lengths, legal and illegal, to attract the business of Sacramento’s criminal class.
Because of the high level of competition between agencies, most of the complaints of illegalities within the industry actually come from bondsmen who would like to see their competitors lose their licenses. Once a bondsman has lost his license, he’s allowed neither to negotiate bail nor to be the sole owner of an agency. In a sense, the bondsman who has no other investments or businesses could lose his livelihood. With such high stakes, bondsmen are not above making accusations to the department if their competitors steal some of their business.
Malter, who said he’s never been asked by a bondsman to lodge a complaint, may have been only one of the voices calling for an investigation of what is now Andrea Bail Bonds. In his statement to the Department of Insurance, Malter said that he watched non-licensed agents transact bail, which is considered a felony, and that he was asked to sign bonds that other non-licensed agents had negotiated. His statements apparently helped fuel a department investigation that cost manager Manuel Alexander his job, at least temporarily.
Alexander, who was once an investor in Andrea Bail Bonds, was denied a bail license because of a previous conviction for robbery, but he was allowed to buy in as an investor. According to the Department of Insurance, someone who’s denied a license based on his criminal past can only act as a silent partner in a bond business. Because of whistle-blowers like Malter, Alexander was investigated for his role as a bookkeeper and manager and for writing bail without a license at Andrea Bail Bonds. On December 9, Alexander was ordered not only to stop transacting business, but also to stay off the property all together, though Alexander denies that he ever illegally transacted bail.
“They’re using my felony against me,” Alexander said during a phone interview, though he claimed that some of his main competitors are felons, also. Alexander said he believes that the entire investigation was based on complaints from competitors jealous of his successful business. He didn’t mention Malter at all.
Did Alexander know anything about dead chickens being left at the doors of whistle-blowers? He said he didn’t. Rather than considering retaliation, Alexander said he was turning his attention to his many other investments.
Though the Department of Insurance is barred from either confirming or denying the existence of an investigation against a particular agency, in this case, it’s obvious to Malter that his statements helped define the case against Alexander. Other complaints made by Malter have had little if any effect on the department, which first dedicates its limited resources to investigating criminal activities that harm consumers, according to McCallister. Though the department does investigate cases of unlicensed bondsmen, the accusation is commonly lodged against various agencies, and though the crime is a felony that can be prosecuted, cases rarely go that far.
Alexander’s attorney Michael Bowman agreed that there were always such allegations flying around. “Andrea’s agents are all licensed,” he said, but he wasn’t even sure it mattered. “Even if they’re not,” he added, “who cares?”
Because agents have to deal with criminals and suspected criminals, having the kind of past that makes it difficult to get a license might actually be an asset in the bail industry. A good deal of street smarts certainly is, and some of the scars and outward signs of battle are used almost as a marketing campaign geared to impress the potential customer.
Malter, who wears tattoos up and down both arms, said that he was once fired from an agency because he refused to wear short-sleeved shirts to show the markings off to his clients.
That Malter might prefer the professionalism of long sleeves to the prospect of having a job the next day marked him as something of a reformer. The industry should have known right then that he might be a stickler for the details.
Malter’s statements to the Department of Insurance also claimed that one agency asked him to forge the signature of a licensed agent on all the bonds written by an unlicensed partner; another, Malter claimed, asked him to sign his own name to bonds that he had not negotiated. Some agents, claimed Malter, bartered or took discounts on bonds, which is also illegal. The Department of Insurance could not comment on these accusations or on the possibility of investigations.
After making his statements to the Department of Insurance and then filing a wrongful-termination suit against Alex Padilla Bail Bonds, which could net him a tidy sum in back wages, Malter knows that his career in bail is at an absolute end. Finding himself blackballed in the small community of downtown bail agencies, Malter now feels as though he’s standing alone against his peers, an unlikely champion of the law and a potential target for more retaliatory chicken deliveries.